At the onset, I must apologise for not turning up and be with you in person on this important cultural and social function. It was a rare honour to have been invited by the organisers of the event. In particular, I thank Kenyatta Dei Wal for personally asking me to be the guest speaker at the event. It was unfortunate, however, that factors beyond my control and that of the organisers could not allow me to be with you tonight. I will also miss, not only your esteemed presence as members of south Sudanese community in Melbourne, but also that of our artists who will grace this occasion. I extend my greetings to the artists, especially singer Gordon Koang, one of our celebrated performers, who will remember that we met and discussed in Juba, a couple of years ago, the role of music in our nation building process. Now to the matter.
Who is D. K. Matthews?
The occasion that has brought you together here tonight is the launch of a book written by a South Sudanese public figure. The author of The Struggle for the Liberation of South Sudan is Daniel Koat Matthews, former minister in the Juba-based Government of Southern Sudan in 1978 and in 1983 became governor of Upper Nile Region. The book’s sub-title is: The Memoirs of Veteran Participant. Memoirs are about life stories of their writers. So before one can talk about the contents of the book, it is relevant to give a glimpse of what one knows about the writer, and in this case, that author’s public life. Nevertheless, we should bear in mind that our individual perception of other people, ideas or the world around us, is often shaped by many factors. One of those influencing agents is subjectivity as opposed to objectivity. In that respect, I ask you to forgive me if my selection of certain aspects in the public life of Daniel Koat Matthews if anyone within the audience finds my projection of D. K. Matthews, the public servant, disappointing. That image is my view and cannot help doing otherwise.
As a member of younger generation way behind that of D. K. Matthews’s, I “knew” him, having heard about him before we met in person-when I was a school boy at Atar intermediate School which he had attended many years before. This is not surprising. Young people know their elders- what is said about or is attributed to them by words of deeds, especially prominent public figures, which unfortunately is not always reciprocal in many cases.
A man with a Khawaja’s name
The man who in years to come to be known as Daniel Koat Matthews was born in a cattle camp called Koat in Nasir District bordering Ethiopia. The name of the place his birth became his own. As a school boy, he added Old Testament Daniel to his name at baptism.
“My father’s name was Dhuoth Lual Matenyang”, he writes at the beginning of his life story. In the tradition of many South Sudanese communities, the man known to everyone now as Daniel Koat Matthews would be Daniel Koat Lual Matenyang, with the fourth in the chain normally being excluded.
During 1977 when the people of what is now South Sudan were preparing to elect their representatives to conduct to the second People’s Regional Assembly, my friend Stephen Abraham Yar asked me to join him to visit his friend D.K. Matthews who was staying in an apartment within the Hillat Jallaba shopping area. It was while we were taking tea that our host abruptly announced he was going to contest a seat in one of the constituencies allotted to his native Nasir District, of eastern Upper Nile Province.
“Who will elect you?” jibed Stephen.
“My people will elect me, believe it or not”, he hit back as he looked serious and offended by the question.
And he went to beat his rival, Daniel Deng Kuach. Deng Kuach was our contemporary at Atar. He was a peaceable and friendly student, so it was baffling how he had acquired the nickname of “Achamliny”, which in Chollo language literally means “someone who eats fighting”.
D. K. Matthews was one of prominent leaders in what was called “The Wind of Change” political grouping in Juba. The Change camp which brought together most leaders of Anya Nya under their former chief Joseph Lagu, Sudan African National Union or Sanu, under Samuel Aru Bol, and an array of politicians who had fallen out with the leadership of Abel Alier, former Southern Front secretary general and then head of the Regional Government, the High Executive Council, won by a large margin the election that was universally judged as free and transparent. In the cabinet the Gen Lagu formed, Daniel Koat Matthews became minster for Youth and Sports.
At the time I was editor of Southern Sudan monthly and cultural magazine. The capture of power by the Change alliance was the main story for the magazine’s May 1978 issue. For the cover story I interviewed Lagu, with brief profiles of his ministers to complete the picture. When the magazine hit the streets of Juba, I received a bitter complaint from the new minister of Youth and Sports, Daniel Koat Matthews. Reasons? Why did I frequently refer to him as DK only without writing it out in full? In response, I apologised that I meant no offence. He accepted the apology, somewhat reluctantly. We became friends again, but a kind of bond that I would describe as close and warm.
Another memorable personal encounter I had with Daniel Koat Matthews occurred in around June 1982. By that time Daniel Koat Matthews was one of leading lights within what was known as Kokora and their grouping which was opposed by Unity camp headed by Clement Mboro, had won election held that year. Joseph James Tambura, the Kokora’s candidate for the presidency of High Executive Council had just been sworn in. I was at the time in Juba on holiday from Britain where I was studying printing at the London College of Printing (later changed to do research in Journalism). As one of the architects of the new government, Daniel Koat Matthews approached me with an offer that was too tempting to be rejected: position of press secretary to the President of High Executive Council. Although the job was less glamourous especially for photogenic characters, the office had huge material perks attached to it.
“Atem is going to be the President’s press secretary. We must end tribalism. We should not have a Zande journalist as a press secretary to a Zande president”, he told a group of friends. I was seated among them. Those present included newly appointed ministers who openly backed his nomination and its justification.
“Thanks for that” I told him, adding “but I cannot take up that job at the moment. I am currently on a scholarship in the UK and have another two years to finish”.
“As yours is a government scholarship I will terminate it”, he cut me short. His tone showed he was going to follow his threats with action. When I later told a trusted friend about the day’s encounter, his comment was “You are in trouble. He means what he says. He will terminate your studies”. I believed him.
The problem was not only that I was going to lose a rare technical training only available abroad; there was some political implication in my acceptance of the job. Initially, I supported the Unity camp on principle but over time I became utterly disillusioned with the grouping for their unethical power struggle within their ranks, with some of its members pursuing what was clearly an ethnically-motivated agenda. Despite that, the best option for a citizen and journalist was to stay clear out of the rival political parties and their squabble for power.
Kokora in essence was not a set of policies for better management of the autonomous Southern Sudan; rather it was partly a reaction to an illegal removal of Lagu, contrary to the provisions of the Addis Ababa Agreement which vested that power in the People’s Regional Assembly, not in the President of the Republic. Tit for tat could not be dressed up as a political agenda. That was my view of the status quo ante. Furthermore, I was determined to complete my studies and not prepared for any distraction from that. I gradually cooled down and asked him to allow me to think over the matter.
Aware of the fact that a fight against Daniel Koat Matthews was not a child play, I immediately went out to plead with some of his colleagues and friends within and outside the cabinet. One of these personalities I contacted to dissuade D.K. Matthews was the late Charles Kuot Chatim, a friend of mine and at the time he had just been appointed to the powerful ministry of Administration, Police and Prisons. It would appear that those persons succeeded in their mission on my behalf because a few days later I learned, to my relief, that Simon Gaiku, a journalist colleague and an ethnic Zande had been named for the coveted job. I lost in touch with D. K. Matthews for a long time. By he was governor of Upper Nile Region I was studying while at eh same time a member of a secret Southern Sudanese organisation in the UK who were opposed to the regime of Nimeiri. Our organisation later dissolved itself to become an SPLM chapter in the UK and Northern Ireland. At the end my studies in early 1984, I headed to the SPLA/SPLM (the order was reversed in 1986 to become SPLM/SPLA, and subsequently to SPLM/A) to establish Radio SPLA.
D. K. Matthews denied to witness “capture of Jekou by SPLA”
After losing his job as governor of Upper Nile Region following the overthrow of the government of Jaafar Nimeiri in a popular uprising in 1985, D. K. Matthews played not a small role in the reconciliation between the warring SPLA and Anya Nya Two. While in power he had supported Anya Nya Two fighters against the SPLA. As a result of the much hailed 1987 agreement between the two military organisations Daniel Koat Matthews became an SPLM/A member. In that year, the SPLA moved to attack to dislodge the Sudan Government’s the militarily strategic outpost at Jekou which is in D. K.’s home district.
On the eve of the attack, Cdr John Garang, then SPLA commander in chief and Cdr William Nyuon Bany, SPLA’s chief of the general staff presented sand model for the operation underway. D. K. Matthews who was in the area where he was mobilising the local population in support of the just concluded peace and reconciliation was present as was Dr Justin Yaac Arop who had returned from a mission to the USA with Cdr Lam Akol.
The two were the only civilians present at the presentation. Showing a huge missile as a sample to be fired from a ballistic missile- BM- machine mounted on a lorry nearby, Garang told the officers, men and the two civilians that the job for the attacking soldiers the following morning would be “teftish al aradhi”, or inspection of what would remain of a garrison that would have been obliterated by fire and brimstone in the form of BM. Obviously, there was excitement and everyone wanted to witness the apocalypse that would befall Jekou and its army.
Unfortunately that was not going to be the case for D. K. Matthews and his fellow politician, Dr Justin Yaac Arop, a British trained gynaecologist and like Daniel Koat Matthews, a former minister in Juba. At about nine that night an officer went to inform them to pack their personal effects: they were to be driven to nearby Bilpam, the SPLA general headquarters, with instructions that the two should be given a two week crash training in military basics. Fifteen days later the former politicians were commissioned at the rank of captain in the SPLA.
As it is to be expected Daniel Koat Matthews and Justin Yaac, were not only disappointed to miss the promised “destruction” of Jekou by the SPLA’s BM; they felt their sudden and unexplained removal from base at Mangok, the technical headquarters, was a personal insult to them. In their complaint the decision by the SPLA top commanders to send them away from the theatre of fighting indirectly questioned their patriotism.
Humanitarian worker in Bor
Following the launch of the UN sponsored relief programme, Operation Lifeline Sudan in 1989, Captain Daniel Koat Matthews was posted to Bor town to manage relief operations on behalf of the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association, SRRA- SPLM’s humanitarian component. I also had my stint at the same assignment which took me to Panyagoor in my native Kongor area. Daniel Koat Matthews had requested the SPLM leadership to allow him visit his home in Nasir, then under the SPLM/A administration. His absence meant that I had to be transferred to Bor as his relief.
Arriving Bor in September 1989, I did not find the person I was going to take over from. He had gone to a Gualla village in the heart of southern Bor District. I waited for about five days before he showed up for handing over process.
What was he doing in the remote Dinka countryside? I was told by members of his staff that he was planning to marry a girl from Gualla and that he was busy conducting gok, the Dinka art of wooing a girl for marriage. How about the allegation to the effect that while governor of Greater Upper Nile Region he was alleged to have said “Upper Nile without Bor?” Personally, I have never asked him about that claim. Nevertheless, that act alone would vindicate Daniel Koat Matthews of the claim that he disliked people hailing from Bor, particularly their members of political elite; no sensible person would love a woman whose race, ethnicity or religion one hates. Whether the story about his intention to marry was a fabrication or that his plan was true but aborted by his transfer, I have no way to know for sure.
2. The importance of the book launch
Book launches are a cultural, intellectual and business affair. Usually, a book that has just been released is presented to the public, mostly made of readers who would critique its contents. Most authors, academics or writers of creative works or non-fiction, are motivated by the desire to share their ideas and their different worldview with the reading public. Then there is the commercial side to publishing: book production costs writers money. And to meet those costs books must be sold. There would be no point printing books that would not be bought and read.
Why history of South Sudan matters
In our situation in Australia, book launches I have been involved in so far tend to be more of social and communal than intellectual, events. For example, in September last year I travelled to Perth in Western Australia to spearhead the launch of Upper Nile Province Handbook edited by Dr Douglas H. Johnson, a friend of mine and one of non-South Sudanese professional historians who treat the history of the country and its people objectively and sympathetically.
My abiding interest in the history of our country is that we South Sudanese, especially our youth, have missed out to study the past of our ancestral home not out of choice but by default. Out of necessity our young people in the diaspora have learned and continue to read for examinations, histories of the lands where they have gone to settle in as refugees or migrants. Understandably, one should not expect curriculums designed for and taught in the schools and colleges in the lands which South Sudanese migrants call home to include lessons and courses in the history of South Sudan. Courses of that nature could be available to students wishing to specialise in Africa affairs, but such opportunities are limited.
But one has to be careful: whose version of history and what the writer trying to project? Politicised history or one written with scant respect for professional methods and intellectual integrity is as deleterious as a deliberately distorted account to serve political and other narrow interests.
At the Perth function, I was humbled and pleased to witness a huge turn up by members from our linguistically diverse communities not only from Greater Upper Nile- the subject matter of the reports converted to a book- but also from the rest of South Sudan. The hall was packed full to the point that some members of the audience were forced to participate while standing up. The occasion, in my view, had national characteristics which was a good thing; most of our gatherings are usually ethnically oriented, exclusive, and sometimes divisive as communication is often conducted in a language of a group that happens to have more members at the venue, thus excluding the other South Sudanese present or who would like to take part.
In January this year, Perth was again the venue for launching of three books. I went to talk about South Sudanese Past Notes and Records, also by Dr Johnson. This book is a collection of articles that were published in The Pioneer weekly newspaper of which I was its editor a couple of years. As the title indicates the publication is about some important themes, events, personalities, places, a valuable advice to would be writers on the writing of our history and so on. The other books were Lewis Anei’s The Dinka History and D. K. Matthews’ book being launched here tonight.
No role for children in fathers’ wars
What is of note was the information I had received before the occasion: Kenyatta Dei Wal was to represent the author in the presentation. After reading the book, I began to wonder how Kenyatta, one of the sons of another prominent South Sudanese politicians from Nasir District like D. K. Matthews and a former chief administrator of half of what is now Greater Upper Nile, would stand for the author who has bashed his father in the account of his life?
The organisers assured me that Kenyatta was going for the launch, attack on his father by the writer notwithstanding. During his presentation Kenyatta who referred to D. K. Matthews with the endearing sobriquet of “Uncle” described the eighty two year old politician as a freedom fighter who has spent much of his adult life struggling for the cause of his country.
Another score at the occasion was the unity of the people of South Sudan. Previously members of Nuer and Dinka communities in Perth rarely shared a public forum. This was the second time- the first was the September 2015 launch- when the two communities were able to sit together and discuss common issues besides politics and the armed conflict.
The following day while we were having lunch with Kenyatta Dei Wal and the organisers of the event I asked him how he managed to liberate himself from our common malaise in which differences and conflicts between two individuals would suck in others who have nothing to do with the bone of contention. Kenyatta’s answer was simple: “The differences between my late father and DK have nothing to do with me or with us the children of Joshua Dei Wal or DK’s own children. They had their own time and issues which had nothing to do with us.”
The spirit of mutual tolerance
It is indisputable that the spirit of tolerance and open-mindedness are what South Sudanese need now. When one looks closely at some of the conflicts which drag communities and even the entire nation into violence, hatred and self-destruction, the causes can be traced to some people trying to fight in defence of a public figure with whom they share a lineage, a dialect, a district or region. Rarely are causes of differences within the ruling power elite investigated to establish who is right or wrong; what counts in most instances is “my tribe* and tribesmen/women, right or wrong”.
But being objective and tolerant often comes under threat from extremists who drive members into the “family fold” through appeal to herd mentality, summed up by: “We are safer together” and “’Others’ are evil and dangerous”. The result is that the faint-hearted buckles and forced to follow the crowd to avoid being perceived as a traitor. The fear of excommunication to which open-minded members of a group can be subjected when they oppose or act contrary to “received wisdom” such as claim to superiority over “Others” or being in the right when the opposing members of the other camp are branded as perpetual malefactors and irrational, is one of the reasons why hardliners get away bigotry and other forms of ethnocentric antagonisms such as racism, xenophobia or discrimination based on faith. In many societies, confronting these evils is hampered by fear of ostracisation: few are prepared to openly denounce fanatics and their views as they appear to be in the majority simply because they cow opponents with dissenting conviction and stand.
It comes as no surprise that many people from all our communities who do not subscribe to the ideology of hatred and demonisation of “Others” prefer to remain silent when the nation is being torn to shreds by the barren and primordial “We” versus “They” alignment. In a way, all of us bear responsibility for most of the mistakes made by our leaders on all sides of the divide.
The renowned American broadcaster and journalist, Ed Murrow was referring to such situations as those which plague human societies when he wrote “No one can terrorise a whole nation, unless we all are his accomplices”. With the exception of the likes of the Ugandan criminal Joseph Kony who abducts, trains abductees in barbarism to kill innocent to do his dirty job of killing innocent persons, most followers of world’s misguided warlords act voluntarily on their behalf.
Highlights from the book
This is not a review of the book but a few remarks on two events in the life of Daniel Koat Matthews which have left an indelible imprint in his memory and which the reader of the book is likely to remember for a long time afterward.
The first is about Daniel Koat Matthews, the student at Rumbek Secondary School in the mid-1950s. He tells the reader about a quarrel between him and an Art teacher called Gritly. The teacher is from Northern Sudan. He teacher is unhappy with his student Koat for not taking his subject in the Cambridge examination, a forerunner of Sudan School Certificate. Daniel Koat tells him he does not like the subject and will not take it for exam.
The teacher loses his temper and insults him: he is a progeny of slaves; the student gets furious; picks a chair and hits the teacher with; the headmaster who is from England dismisses the offending student; the school population rises up in protest and in support of their colleague; the punishment is reduced to five strokes of the cane; the students demand all of them to be lashed; this is done but the exercise is stopped after the tenth student has received his five strokes. Lesson: Daniel Koat Matthews learns his first lesson that unity and group solidarity are a strength.
Teachers and a baby killed
Then we have a tale that is too graphic and therefore stressful that details are skipped here. Suffice, this is the story of August 18, 1955, the day officers and men from the South mutiny against their Northern officers of Sudan Defence Force stationed at Torit. The disturbances as they officially later became known, spreads to the rest of Southern Sudan.
Some students from Rumbek Secondary School happen to be travelling to Northern Sudan for friendly sporting activities with their colleagues there. Daniel Koat Matthews who is a sportsman is among the band and is one of its organisers. The students are travelling by land to Juba where they will take a Nile boat northward. Accompanying them are the school’s deputy headmaster with his wife, two children, aged six years and four months respectively, a Geography teacher, all Northern Sudanese. On the trip also there is the sports teacher who is from the South.
On August 18, the convoy carrying students and their teachers is stopped near Lainya, some tens of miles south of Juba. Members of the public sympathetic with the mutineers want to attack the Northerners. The students and their sports teacher plead for them to be spared.
D. K. Matthews and colleagues learn here that “all teachers of Northern Sudanese origins at Mundri Junior Secondary School (sic) had been executed…by Sudan Defence Force soldiers of South Sudanese (sic) origins”. The convoy is allowed to precede. But at another spot, they are stopped again. This time, their pleas fall on deaf ears. The two Northerners teachers and the baby are dragged out of the vehicles and brutally killed; the students manage to save the other child and his mother. The narrator is one of the students who hand over the widow and her child to Belgian colonial authorities at Abba, a border post of the neighbouring colony of the Belgian Congo. They return to Rumbek where students will be sent to their various homes in the three provinces of Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile after the closure of schools all over the country for a year.
Cause for reflection
Reflecting over these tragic events which occurred 60 years ago, D. K. Matthews has this to say: “How could I then have imagined that the rage, the thirst for revenge and the horror of bloodletting that I had personally witnessed in two [the] fateful days [August 18-19, 1955] would be multiplied a thousand times over the protracted period of half a century?”
These are truly sobering thoughts which raise further questions. For example, despite the horrors he witnessed and perhaps might have heard of inhumanity of people to fellow humans, the author appears to have forgotten that there were stories of some Southern Sudanese who took risk to save lives by hiding vulnerable Northern Sudanese civilians, particularly women, children, the sick and the elderly among them.
Likewise, he might not be aware of the famous story about a Northern boy who was hidden by a Lotuho family and later given to authorities after the situation had returned to normal. The boy, the popular tale goes, in later years became a civil servant working for a Sudan’s mission in a European country. The man, according to the same reliable sources, morbidly hated all Southern Sudanese for the deaths of his parents in Torit that August. It was claimed that each time he saw a person of Southern Sudanese descent he would throw tantrums and cried hysterically.
Did Khartoum commemorate the 10th anniversary of Torit mutiny with the 1965 massacres?
Again in the context of vengeance, how many South Sudanese have seen a possible synergy between the 1965 declaration of war against the people of the South by the government of Prime Minister Mohammed Ahmed Mahjoub and his interior minister, Ahmed el Mahdi? In that war, for example, more than 1,000 innocent civilians in Juba were killed in cold blood by the army in a single night of July that year.
Those unprovoked massacres were followed a few days later by the killing of over 70 wedding guests, mostly senior civil servants in Wau town. The same year, the peaceful inhabitants of Warajwok a Chollo village, not far from Malakal, were wiped out of the face of the earth together with their livestock. The carnage that bore the hallmarks of genocide continued unabated for about two years.
In early 1967, 24 elderly chiefs, including Paramount Chief Ajang Duot and one of Southern Sudan’s prominent nationalists, Chief Parmena Bul Kooc, in Bor District were assassinated by orders from Prime Minister Sadiq el Mahdi who had succeeded Mahjoub.
Clearly Khartoum was exacting vengeance on the people of Southern Sudan to mark the tenth anniversary of the Torit mutiny of August 18, 1955 and to avenge the deaths of Northern civilians who perished in the disturbances. Vengeance, which is said to be wild justice, is also self-perpetuating as today’s hurt begets tomorrow’s retaliatory act, and it goes on and on. No wonder some people have coined a saying for an unending cycles of payback for a past injury inflicted on a group: “ke ater bï dhieth mïth” which when rendered into English literally would run “This is the kind of enmity that requires the procreation of children (to sustain it)”.
Both recipients and the executors of vengeance have nothing to gain but pain, mutual fear and insecurity. The antidote in such a situation is for the adversaries to embrace forgiveness and reconciliation, not an eye for an eye.
Assessing the book as a contribution to understanding of our past
Some readers are likely to disagree with the accuracy of some statements made by the author. One of these is his understanding of the objectives of the mutiny “The ultimate strategic objective [of the mutiny] was to declare self-government in South Sudan”. The conclusion of the Commission of Inquiry into the causes of the upheavals do not hint to that. This is just one out of several assertions that are likely to be challenged on the basis that supporting evidences are either inadequate or totally absent.
Nonetheless, D. K. Matthews’s The Struggle for the Liberation of South Sudan: The Memoirs of a Veteran Participant, has raised issues that certainly will make its reader ponder over the price the people of South Sudan have paying for a very long time for their freedom; and of some follies that were committed in the name of the liberation by different political and military leaders and groups with their varying ideological orientation and goals.
Disagreement over the book’s contents is likely to be expressed by some readers but seen in the context of freedom of expression, one could conclude that D. K. Matthews, just like the rest of us, is entitled to his opinion. Furthermore, he could as well repeat the words of the late Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe when he says “If you don’t like someone’s story write your own”.
*A long time ago I embargoed the use of the word “tribe” and its derivatives such as “tribesman”, “tribalism”, and “tribalist”. “Nationality” becomes a substitute for “tribe” and “racism” alternates with “nepotism” in the place of “tribalism”. Other expressions which I am loath to use are words such as “animist/animism”, “pagan”, “heathen”, “savage” (in reference to people and culture, especially Africans). Recently, I have blacklisted three expressions: “our people”, “service delivery” and “popular demand”. In the context of South Sudan these overused phrases are empty of meanings. And those public figures who are fond of singing or writing them are not probably aware of the hypocrisy the phrases imply.
This is an edited version of the talk that was read on the writer’s behalf at the launch of Daniel Koat Matthews’s autobiography, The Struggle for the Liberation of South Sudan: The Memoirs of a Veteran Participant, in Melbourne, Australia, on February 6, 2016. Atem Yaak Atem is an internationally accredited translator based in Australia where he is also an editorial consultant in book publishing.